The Early Arteta Impact: Four Benefits/ Two Challenges

It is only early days, but we are starting to see progress under Mikel Arteta. In this post I will outline what I believe to be the benefits our new manager has brought to our team and his immediate challenges. 

arteta in black

B#1 Capable central defenders

I know, it’s been only 3 games with a single win, but I’m not joking. Luiz was great all 3 games (vital clearances, important tackles, clear organizational and leadership skills). He made an effective CB pairing with Chambers, recently with Sokratis, earlier with Mustafi, and I’m quite certain he would not fail with Holding either. Hopefully I’m not the only one, but definitely belong to a narrow minority who wouldn’t spend money on a centre back in January.

It would only make sense (and even then not much) if we were about to retire Sokratis at the end of the season – who just received MotM from TA 2 days ago. Despite Chambers side-lined with a long injury we have Luiz-Sokratis as well as Mustafi-Holding (not to mention the promising Mavropanos-Medley) pairings to survive this season, and then Saliba will join, and Chambers is also expected to return. So I would prefer Arteta to teach them how to defend in his preferred style and keep improving them. Luiz, Sokratis and Mustafi have contracts running down in 2021, they have minimal market value to sell, and I believe that our defensive challenges are/were stemming from bad tactics and player mismanagement rather than the lack of talent or motivation.

B#2 Decent back-up full backs

To be honest I believed (and probably still do) that the main reason for our poor season ending and lame season start were the gap between our first-choice and backup-fullbacks, and the constant use of Matteo Guendouzi. After Monreal was sold and Tierney arrived – as well as Bellerin recovered from his nasty injury – I was optimistic. But so far Hector couldn’t get up to his quality (I expect him to become the best RB in the PL), and Tierney suffered another injury, so with Kolasinac struggling with his foot recently we played with 2 pseudo-fullbacks, young Bukayo Saka and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. And while they seemed constant liabilities under Ljungberg (a difference of opinion with TA) they played really mature for Arteta, and even Kolasinac played his best games for ages. While I’m still waiting for Tierney and Bellerin to resume their positions in the first team, I don’t think their substitutes are ticking bombs any more.


B#3 Ideal midfield

With Emery’s preference for Guendouzi and Ljungberg’s bias towards Willock we needed Arteta to incorporate the wisdom of the Bergkampesque community and play Torreira, Xhaka and Ozil together in central midfield (And put the former in his best role of DM with the option to get involved in chance creation and occasionally attacks, but without any pattern for the opposition to read).

Without Leno’s unfortunate blunder we would have made 6 point against 2 top 4 opponents. What truly amazes me is that with Ozil harassing the center backs we dominated midfield in a 4-2-4 formation. But we have 2 challenges ahead of us. First, we must keep Torreira and Xhaka, which is rather a matter of trust and atmosphere than money. Second, even if we sign midfielder(s) in the winter, we should go for starlets (K. Philips, G. Fernandes, E. Eze) than players demanding regular starts (Can, Partey, Ndidi, Isco, Rabiot). But before we start to panic, the Guendouzi-Willock-Ceballos midfield (possibly featuring ESR) seems like a capable midfield – I’m expecting to see against Leeds – who are in desperate need of minutes, so I won’t mind the lack of midfield reinforcements either.

B#4 Attacking synergies

We had this discussion earlier this season, and not everybody was convinced about the effectiveness of the OPAL formation up front. Ozil received a fair share of criticism, Pepe was named the biggest waste of money in the history of Arsenal, and the Lacazette-Aubameyang partnership were often questioned due to the players substitute or complement each other. Well, kudos to Arteta, but these 4 played along really well against Manchester United. OK, let’s not get carried away, it was a home game with a lot of pressure on the players, but what I’m optimistic about, is that with OPAL we don’t need all of them to play exceptionally. In fact, on Wednesday it was Ozil and Pepe in their best, but even an average Laca or Auba can occupy a defender or two. As long as the 2 C(D)M can cope with the midfield pressure these 4 attacking geniuses are asking tough questions from any defensive formations. They need some time to click, but I feel a lot of potential there. MU should be proud to concede only 2 goals.


C#1 Stamina

Not surprisingly, we managed to deal with this load by a lot of running. For the midfield dominance full backs and wingers are systematically supporting our central (defensive) midfielders; wingbacks participate in attack, wingers help out their wingback/fullback counterparts on a regular base. That takes a huge toll on stamina. I don’t know if this is an Arsenal issue, or we are getting close to the frontiers to the human body, but by the end of both home games players were struggling to get back, fight for the ball, etc. Based on Arteta’s judgement Pepe is not yet fit for 96 minutes of physical challenge, Ozil is neither the type nor at the age of running and pressing all game long (see next paragraph), so even without injuries or tactical changes we have „used” 2 of our 3 substitutions.

If Arteta wants to gradually reintroduce injured players (as he did with Kolasinac, or might do with Ceballos) then he quickly runs out of changing opportunities. The only (?) trap ahead is if he tries to improve the players’ stamina too hard, then they will be exposed to serious injuries with a lot higher probability than without the physical stretch. Arteta has some slack with the Leeds game as well as the clash against Olympiacos to experiment with rotation, but the stamina challenge is another reason to nurture a back-up XI almost as good as the first choice team.

Auba and Mesut

C#2 Ozil’s succession

It is not really fair to compare Ozil to de Bruyne. While the latter is far more efficient in scoring himself, our German has the skill and elegance that only a selected few possess. His dummies and through passes are joys to watch. Yet, he was substituted against Bournemouth and Chelsea, and probably would have been against MU, if Lacazette and Torreira could have kept playing. Not because of sending a message, but due to him being not accustomed to perform heavy pressing. And at the age of 31 his stamina will not likely improve. But this is perfectly normal. Furthermore, the next line of attacking playmakers need chances to grow and prove themselves, so I’m perfectly fine with Ozil playing 60-70 minutes and then being replaced (but I would rather pick ESR than the box-to-box Willock).

So if Arteta and/or the club doesn’t want to renew Mesut’s contract (which is hardly surprising given his current salary) then gradually removing him from duty, yet utilizing him as much as possible in a chance-creator and mentor capacity is a reasonable choice. The other option is to sign somebody who can take over his duties. But there are not many players available with his skillset, and those who possess his competence are either way too expensive (Havertz) or not inspired by moving to a (currently) mid-table PL team (Maddison, Brandt, van de Beek). So that leaves us with a few options. Staying with an Academy graduate, break the bank for Bruno Fernandes or somebody else from the above list, signing a relatively unproven, yet costly youngster (Odeegard, Zainolo, Grealish) who would love to join Arsenal, or give up on this central attacking playmaker position, just like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Liverpool and Chelsea did.

By PBarany

15 thoughts on “The Early Arteta Impact: Four Benefits/ Two Challenges

  • Great stuff, PB! Well worked post with astute observations.

    Agreed with the first three benefits. The fourth one is a work in progress and Arteta will have to get the best balance between hard working attackers – supporting defence and midfield – and efficiency up-front. Final balls need improving and we need a bit more finishing quality. So for me that remains a challenge.

    Agreed re stamina, but I am also concerned about our options in midfield, as per previous post. We need quality back up for the Torreira-Xhaka axis as we don’t want to run them into the ground/ get badly injured.

    Agreed re Ozil who adds that extra dimension in attack. Willock and ESR are prospects (and I prefer indeed Willock at the moment) but I expect Arteta to buy someone in the next four weeks / eight months.

  • Great post, great observations. Yes, we may not need new defenders in view of Saliba, Holding, Chambers development. But spare a thought for the now usual? Arsenal injuries. An ageing proven defender like the touted Boateng may offer short time cover for us. It’s still a long season.

    The midfield may need another grafter/battler. Consider our second half shortcomings against Chelsea/ManU and the fact that should Torerra or Xhaka cop injuries, the youngsters may not deputise effectively as they still need time. Again here, an ageing, experienced player can come in.

    With the added defensive responsibilities for our front men, it may mean susceptibility to injuries. Only Martinelli is left as the recognisable striker on the bench. I raise this because of the Nketiah recall. Should he still be sent out?

  • Pb … good analysis and arguements.

    I believe that part of Emery’s undoing was his choice of talented but still raw Guendz over Torreira. Maybe he finds it difficult to view his prejudices under fresh light. It must be Guendouzi.. It must not be Torreira or Ozil. Arteta seems the opposite, always revising his conclusions searching for new insights.

    On the stamina issue I don’t think it’s all due to stamina itself. Pressing is a skill on its own. With time our players would grow in doing it more efficiently i.e. same energy output with less physical impute. Arteta is already working on their positioning, timing, and pressing triggers (decisions). I followed Klopp’s Liv evolution closely.

  • Hey fellas…Did anybody miss me?… I thought not, so disregard these writings as they’re bound to be too long–on top of being almost completely uninformed!! Of course, that never stopped me before, so why should it now, even if it’s the year of clear vision…

    Indeed, happy 20-20!!

    TA, you’ve been doing a great job with the blog–with a single exception (IMO)–which, if you keep reading, I’ll tell you about (this is called “creating incentive,” a manager’s first job to get folks to buy in to his ideas)… And PB, I think, has done VERY well with this post (and several others) over this tumultuous “festive” period, which FINALLY will be coming to a close. Personally, I think, Leeds at home (on a Monday night) is a perfect way for a former Arsenal guy to really celebrate his homecoming… TA, I’m sure will “let the dog out” and show us some Henry video at some point…

    THAT goal (I’ll link to it in a bit…more incentive…) late on to (finally…) break down inferior competition through ball control and individual play (Song’s pass is just as good as Henry’s finish)… I think, is what went missing in the change from Wenger’s Arsenal to Emery’s (complete destruction of it). TA is correct, IMO, that it’s just about ALL in the system of football that a manager chooses to play and Arteta is (very much, in my view) on the right track.

    Emery, by contrast, and not wanting to stick the boot in too deeply…thought it was all about results, which it kinda is, of course…witness how sane people–Admir, for example–lose their sh*te, or at least fling it about in fits of blame–when results are turned upside down, i.e., after the Chelsea match…

    But, let’s not get carried away. It IS all about results–financial ones for our real leaders (the Kroenke$$$…) Gazidis finally gave the fans their wish (Wenger’s head) but then his guy (ours now, Mikel Arteta…or maybe OurTeta?…) got pipped by (slimy?…) Raul and his guy (Unai, who, of course, had “one eye” on our over inflated wage budget, and worked his ARSE off to get rid of Ramsey and Ozil, while being happy enough to let other Wenger players–notably Mustafi and Xhaka… swing on their ropes of their own making…

    As such, I think PB makes good points about the future (esp. Ozil’s, but I don’t see guys like the others mentioned and at least one if not both of PEA and Lacazette) with us at the end of the (calendar) year. I also agree that we might need to work the market even earlier (i.e., right now) for CBs (or a RB/CB option, if Bellerin wanted to play his post ACL career in Barcelona… Fantasy folks don’t get it, these are serious injuries, as is Tierney’s shoulder issue and players NEVER are the same–or as imagined in fond memory–or video reel…)

    But, TA is also right and it’s SO good to have a midfield again(!!). It’s true, I believe, that it’s that part of the park that defines what made Wenger-ball (Bergkamp-ball, at the beginning…) and drew so many of us to become supporters. “Showing” for the ball, is what (confident, i.e., real…) MFs do, and that’s what Arteta did as a player, stabilizing us in a very low moment.

    This one is MUCH, MUCH lower (Wenger haters might think, ooh, maybe I should be careful for that which I wish…but, of course, they won’t…), but allowing others (besides, “I’ve got David Luiz hair, so I fall over like a Brazilian, where’s my foul?…” Matteo Guendouzi–or maybe Guendo-Luiz-y?) to actually move towards the ball so they don’t have to perform (freaking) miracles with it during our perfectly-spaced but hideous to watch, “playing it out from the back” (also known as offering the ball to the opponent) Emery-ball. My point is that Arteta was playing Pep-ball (Santi-ball?…) a decade ago, sacrificing positioning for possession and trying to create overloads in that manner. Personally, I’m not sure we’ve got the talent in MF (esp. in a post Ozil MF…) to play that way, so, like I said, I think TA is also right and a savvy January addition in that area could also help matters…

    …especially if we realize our best bet back to CL football must be seen as the looong slog through the Ropy League… Leeds on Monday will be Arteta’s first cup match, so an important one to win…

  • I think you’re wrong (and right, kind of…about Guendouzi…) PE, and that it’s much more about the system of football described above… Clean slates and stamina–playing with sustained effort for the full 90, however, are also important… Size and mobility (see, for example, Alex Song) are something too…(and note his “success” playing in back in Barca, which was even less than Cesc, who had skill, and reasonable size, but not a lot of mobility, really…though someone might post that Totts goal from the kick-off if they wanted to prove me wrong)…

  • Finally… for those who want the payoff. I was watching AND posting about the Everton Nil-Nil… Freddie’s (and Fergie Jr’s…) final match in charge, before the fellas with the hair (Arteta and Ancelotti) took over. Despite, my live-bloggish comments I got ZERO response, meaning that this site is NOT a place people even LOOK at during the games. Maybe that’s a good thing, as people need to wait and react to the FINAL result (only) to know how they “feel” about things–or even what they saw… It got me angry (very angry, in fact…) and I deleted those comments (and, perhaps, I’ll go back and delete these, I still have “powers,” evil laugh track, and all)…

    I was probably also angry at what had become of my football team as that was one of the WORST games I’ve ever seen (even if the nil-nil probably suited ALL four of the managers on hand)…

  • Yeah sure, that’s what they all say…as they lead me back to the (padded) cell… 😬

  • Many hours later…

    Hey, I didn’t mean to kill the thread here… And maybe it’d be best if I took these comments down (too). 😦 Unfortunately, I can’t say all that much about who to buy (and who to sell–or not give new contracts to) as I haven’t seen too many of our matches in recent times, at least… I know I can go to TransferMrkt (or get other valuations), but if I’m not watching, I wonder who cares…

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely excited about Arteta and the football played thus far under his watch. I would just ask people to keep their expectations reasonable–esp. given the profit-first motivations of our owners–(and a rise in ticket prices seems a poor move at this time, but the Kronkehellis can’t be happy about having to pay 2 managers at the same time) and Euro income–already almost nothing, could slip to that number. Arsenal may have to sell (or lose to contract expiration…) quite a few of our best players. At least we can see how far we get with quite a number of the younger guys in these cup games… Of course, if they do well, we might think about selling them too… Isn’t that how Spurs got to where they are (were)…

    On that note, I have a (sad) anecdote to share. In the largest covered market in all of Latin America (in Mexico’s 2nd City, Guadalajara) I saw Spurs shirts being hung for display, while the Arsenal clothes I was able to buy (quite cheaply, in fact, though of course they are not the “real” thing…) were deep (I mean really deep…) in the back of the piles… This was not the case back in the twenty-tens, I don’t think… Has there been a power shift in North London (felt around the world)?… Hmmmm….

  • I enjoyed reading your comments, Seventeenho, and I have nothing to disagree with. I am glad to read you are enjoying Arteta’s impact on our football; it really is a breath of fresh air.

    Re live blogging, you know it is not my favourite thing to do and we really need you to lead on it… You are the king of the live blog… 🙂

  • Spuds were in the CL final, 17HT, and it is been a while we were in one… But it could all change rapidly with the Mourinho effect failing to deliver (as yet)

  • Hey 17ht, i think only TA and me missed your lengthy posts.

    We were playing Pep-ball in the loss against Chavs, and we played Wengerball in the win against manu**.

    Maybe at the bazaar in Latin America, the current sell out shirt is an Arsenal shirt? And spuds shirts are not selling at all?

    Maybe, just maybe.

    Happy weekend all.

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